Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a tall, stout, herbaceous plant with a long (up to 1.5 m), thick taproot (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Parsnip is native to Eurasia between the western Mediterranean region and the Caucasus Mountains. It now grows wild throughout southern and central Europe and was long ago introduced into the United Kingdom and northern Europe. It is also now found growing wild in Australia, Canada and the United States, China and Japan, New Zealand, southern Africa, and southern South America. In many regions, Wild Parsnip is now viewed as a weed of concern. In North America, it is predominantly found in the eastern part of the continent, but it is widely naturalized across the United States, colonizing old fields, railroad embankments, roadsides, and waste areas. Parsnip was introduced to North America shortly after European settlement as an important root crop. It subsequently escaped cultivation and naturalized as a less palatable ‘‘wild’’ form. Wild Parsnip grows best in rich, alkaline, moist soils, but can survive under poor soil conditions and under drought conditions (perhaps as a result of its deep tap root). (Vaughan and Geissler 1997; Menemen et al. 2001 and references therein; Averill and DiTommaso 2007 and references therein)
The cultivated form of Parsnip, which has a thicker and more succulent root, is grown in temperate regions all over the world. Its root is used as animal fodder or as a cooked vegetable (delicious simply broiled with a drizzle of olive oil!). Parsnip was cultivated in Roman times, but fleshy forms were not developed until the Middle Ages. The root contains around 6% starch and 6% sugar; exposure to frost supposedly increases the conversion of starch to sugar. Vitamin C content is 17 mg/100g. Parsnip has sometimes been used to make wine. (Vaughan and Geissler 1997)
The Parsnip plant has a characteristic smell; hollow, furrowed stems; and large, simple, pinnate leaves with ovate and toothed leaflets. The small yellow flowers are borne in an umbel that may be as much as 10 cm across. (Vaughan and Geissler 1997)
Parsnip contains furanocoumarins, which deter herbivores from eating its foliage. These compounds can also cause phytophotodermatitis in humans and livestock, a condition that results in patches of redness and blisters on the skin when they come into contact with the sap or ingest parts of the plant in the presence of sunlight. (Menemen et al. 2001)
Parsnip has been the subject of diverse studies investigating the chemical ecology and evolution of plant-herbivore interactions (Zanger et al. 2008 and references therein).
Averill and DiTommaso (2007) and Cain et al. (2010) reviewed the biology and ecology of this species.
Wild Parsnip is one of eight species and four subspecies in the genus Pastinaca, all of them native to Europe and Asia (Menemen et al. 2001 and references therein).
- Averill, K.M. and A. DiTommaso. 2007. Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa): A Troublesome Species of Increasing Concern. Weed Technology 21(1): 279-287.
- Cain, N., S.J. Darbyshire, A. Francis, R.E. Nurse, and M.-J. Simard. 2010. The Biology of Canadian weeds. 144. Pastinaca sativa L. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 90: 217-240.
- Gleason, H. A., and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, 2nd edition. The New York Botanical Garden, New York.
- Vaughan, J.G. and C.A. Geissler. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (revised and updated edition). Oxford University Press, New York.
- Zangerl, A.R., M.C. Stanley, and M.R. Berenbaum. 2008. Selection for chemical trait remixing in an invasive weed after reassociation with a coevolved specialist. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 105(12): 4547-4552.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Global Range: Found in open places along roadsides and in waste places throughout the northern United States and Canada, from British Columbia to California and Vermont south to Florida. It endures a wide range of edaphic conditions, usually dry to mesic soils, but occasionally will be found in wet meadows. Grows best on calcareous, alkaline soils.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Habitat & Distribution
Flower-Visiting Insects of Wild Parsnip in Illinois
(Bees suck nectar or collect pollen, other insects suck nectar; some observations are Graenicher and Krombein et al. as indicated below, otherwise they are from Robertson)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera mellifera sn; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus griseocallis sn, Bombus impatiens sn, Bombus pensylvanica sn; Anthophoridae (Anthophorini): Anthophora abrupta sn; Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina dupla dupla sn cp; Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile petulans sn
Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochlorella striata sn, Halictus confusus sn, Halictus parallelus sn, Lasioglossum cinctipes sn, Lasioglossum forbesii sn, Lasioglossum imitatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum pectoralis sn cp, Lasioglossum versatus sn cp; Halictidae (Sphecodini): Sphecodes clematidis sn, Sphecodes cressonii sn, Sphecodes dichroa sn fq; Colletidae (Colletinae): Colletes brevicornis sn (Rb, Kr), Colletes eulophi sn; Colletidae (Hylaeinae): Hylaeus affinis sn, Hylaeus illinoisensis sn, Hylaeus mesillae sn (Rb, Kr), Hylaeus modestus modestus sn; Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena crataegi sn, Andrena cressonii sn, Andrena forbesii (Kr), Andrena fragilis (Kr), Andrena heraclei (Kr), Andrena hippotes sn (Rb, Kr), Andrena imitatrix imitatrix (Kr), Andrena integra (Kr), Andrena miranda (Kr), Andrena nigrifrons sn, Andrena nuda sn cp (Rb, Kr), Andrena personata sn cp (Rb, Kr), Andrena pruni sn cp, Andrena quintilis (Kr), Andrena robertsonii sn (Rb, Kr), Andrena rugosa (Kr), Andrena spiraeana (Kr), Andrena wilmattae (Kr), Andrena ziziae cp olg (Kr)
Sphecidae (Astatinae): Astata unicolor; Sphecidae (Bembicinae): Pseudoplisus phaleratus; Sphecidae (Crabroninae): Ectemnius atriceps, Ectemnius continuus, Ectemnius decemmaculatus, Ectemnius lapidarius, Ectemnius rufifemur, Ectemnius trifasciatus, Lestica confluentus fq, Notoglossa inornata, Oxybelus emarginatus, Oxybelus mexicanus, Oxybelus uniglumis; Sphecidae (Larrinae): Lyroda subita, Trypoxylon clavatus; Sphecidae (Philanthinae): Cerceris clypeata, Cerceris compacta, Cerceris fumipennis, Cerceris kennicottii, Philanthus gibbosus; Sphecidae (Sphecinae): Ammophila kennedyi, Ammophila nigricans, Chalybion californicus, Isodontia apicalis, Sceliphron caementaria, Sphex ichneumonea, Sphex pensylvanica; Tiphiidae: Myzinum quinquecincta, Tiphia vulgaris; Pompilidae: Anoplius americanus fq, Anoplius atrox, Anoplius illinoensis, Anoplius lepidus, Anoplius marginatus, Anoplius semirufus, Anoplius tenebrosus, Anoplius virginiensis, Ceropales maculata, Evagetes parvus, Poecilopompilus interrupta, Tachypompilus ferruginea; Mutillidae: Dasymutilla macra, Timulla vagans; Chrysididae: Chrysis nitidula, Hedychrum violaceum, Holopyga ventrale fq; Figitidae: Prosaspicera albihirta; Eucoilidae: Eucoila impatiens; Leucospididae: Leucospis affinis; Perilampidae: Euperilampus triangularis, Perilampus hyalinus, Perilampus platigaster; Encyritidae: Pachyneuron mesograptae (Rb, F&I); Scelionidae: Teleas lineaticeps; Evaniidae: Hyptia reticulata; Gasteruptiidae: Gasteruption assectator, Gasterion tarsatorius; Ichneumonidae: Apophua simplicipes, Colpognathus helvus, Eiphosoma dentator, Eutanyacra succinctus, Ichneumon ambulatorius, Idiolispa analis, Isdromas lycaenae, Tersilochus conotracheli, Trogus pennator, Trychosis subgracilis, Tryphon seminiger; Braconidae: Cardiochiles tibiator, Crassomicrodus divisus, Habrobracon gelechiae, Microplites gortynae, Peristenus pallipes, Vipio rugator; Vespidae: Dolichovespula maculata, Polistes fuscata; Vespidae (Eumeninae): Ancistrocerus adiabatus, Ancistrocerus campestris, Ancistrocerus unifasciatus, Eumenes fraterna, Euodynerus foraminatus fq, Leionotus scrophulariae (Rb, MS), Leionotus ziziae (Rb, MS), Monobia quadridens, Parancistrocerus fulvipes, Symmorphus albomarginatus, Symmorphus canadensis, Zethus spinipes
Argidae: Arge humeralis
Sciaridae: Sciara atrata, Sciara vulgaris; Mycetophilidae: Epicypta scatophora; Tabanidae: Chrysops striatus, Hybomitra illotus; Stratiomyidae: Allognosta fuscitarsis, Stratiomys meigenii; Syrphidae: Allographta obliqua fq, Dasysyrphus venustus, Didea fuscipes, Eristalinus aeneus, Eristalis dimidiatus, Eristalis flavipes, Eristalis transversus, Helophilus fasciatus, Helophilus latifrons, Mallota bautias, Ocyptamus fascipennis, Ocyptamus fuscipennis, Orthonevra nitida icp, Paragus bicolor, Paragus tibialis, Parhelophilus laetus (Gr), Pipiza femoralis, Platycheirus hyperboreus, Platycheirus quadratus, Sphaerophoria contiqua, Syritta pipiens fq, Syrphus ribesii, Toxomerus geminatus, Toxomerus marginatus fq, Trichopsomyia apisaon, Trichopsomyia banksi, Tropidia quadrata; Bombyliidae: Anthrax oedipus, Hemipenthes sinuosa, Villa alternata (Gr); Scenopinidae: Scenopinus nubillipes; Empididae: Empis clausa, Empis distans; Conopidae: Myopa vesiculosa, Physoconops brachyrhynchus, Zodion americanum; Tachinidae: Belvosia unifasciata fq, Chetogena claripennis, Chaetoplagia atripennis, Copecrypta ruficauda, Cryptomeigenia illinoiensis, Cryptomeigenia theutis, Cylindromyia euchenor, Distichona varia, Euclyptia flava, Eumea caesar, Exorista mella, Gnadochaeta globosa, Gymnoclytia occidua, Gymnosoma fuliginosum, Leschenaultia leucophrys, Lespesia aletiae, Lespesia frenchii, Linnaemya comta fq, Masicera inquinata, Paradidyma conica, Phasia purpurascens, Spallanzania hesperidarum, Trichopoda pennipes fq, Uramya pristis, Winthemia quadripustulata fq, Xanthomelanodes arcuatus; Sarcophagidae: Amobia aurifrons, Amobia floridensis, Blaesoxipha alcedo, Blaesoxipha hunteri, Euaraba tergata, Gymnoprosopa polita, Helicobia rapax, Ravinia anxia, Ravinia derelicta, Ravinia stimulans, Sarcophaga sinuata, Senotainia rubriventris, Sphixapata trilineata; Calliphoridae: Calliphora splendida, Calliphora vicina, Cochliomyia macellaria fq, Lucilia illustris, Phormia regina; Muscidae: Graphomya americana, Helina rufitibia, Limnophora narona, Morellia micans fq, Musca domestica, Myospila meditabunda, Neomyia cornicina; Anthomyiidae: Anthomyia leucostoma, Calythea nigricans; Fanniidae: Fannia manicata; Otitidae: Delphinia picta, Seioptera colon; Platystomatidae: Rivellia viridulans; Lauxaniidae: Camptoprosopella vulgaris; Sepsidae: Sepsis violacea; Chloropidae: Chlorops proximus, Homaluroides mellea, Liohippelates flavipes, Liohippelates pusio, Meromyza americana, Rhopalopterum soror, Thaumatomyia glabra; Milichiidae: Lobioptera indecora
Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippus, Libytheana carinenta, Limenitis arthemis astyanax; Lycaenidae: Celastrina argiolus, Lycaena hyllus, Satyrium calanus
Hesperiidae: Polites themistocles
Sesiidae: Synanthedon pictipes; Zygaenidae: Harrisina americana
Buprestidae: Agrilus difficilis, Agrilus egenus; Cantharidae: Chauliognathus marginatus, Podabrus rugosulus, Podabrus tomentosus, Rhagonycha dichrous; Cerambycidae: Callimoxys sanguinicollis, Euderces picipes, Metacmaeops vittata, Typocerus sinuatus, Typocerus vulutina; Chrysomelidae: Acalymma vittata, Anomoea laticlavia, Pachybrachis infaustus, Trirhabda tomentosa; Coccinellidae: Coccinella novemnotata, Coleomegilla maculata, Cycloneda sanguinea, Hippodamia convergens, Hippodamia parenthesis; Dermestidae: Anthrenus muscorum, Attagenus megatoma fq, Cryptorhopalum haemorrhoidalis; Elateridae: Agriotes insanus; Lampyridae: Photinus pyralis, Pyractonema angulata; Lycidae: Calopteron reticulatus; Melandryidae: Osphya varians; Meloidae: Epicauta cinereus, Epicauta murina; Melyridae: Attalus terminalis, Malachius erichsonii; Mordellidae: Hoshihananomia octopunctata, Mordella marginata, Mordella melaena, Mordellistena ornata; Nitulidae: Carpophilus brachypterus; Scarabaeidae: Euphoria fulgida, Euphoria sepulcralis, Trichiotinus piger; Scraptiidae: Pentaria trifasciatus
Lygaeidae: Lygaeus turcicus; Miridae: Lygus lineolaris, Plagiognathus obscurus, Taedia scrupeus; Rhopalidae: Arhyssus lateralis; Thyreocoridae: Corimelaena pulicarius fq
Chrysopidae: Chrysoperla plorabunda prd
effuse colony of Chromelosporium anamorph of Chromelosporium ochraceum is saprobic on dead stem of Pastinaca sativa
In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / parasite
cleistothecium of Erysiphe heraclei parasitises live Pastinaca sativa
Foodplant / miner
larva of Euleia heraclei mines live leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Foodplant / open feeder
Hypera pastinacae grazes on leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Foodplant / parasite
mycelium of Itersonilia pastinacae parasitises live leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Plant / resting place / within
ovum of Melanagromyza angeliciphaga may be found in hollow stem of Pastinaca sativa
Other: minor host/prey
Plant / resting place / within
puparium of Melanagromyza sativae may be found in stem of Pastinaca sativa
Other: major host/prey
Foodplant / pathogen
amphigenous colony of Mycocentrospora anamorph of Mycocentrospora acerina infects and damages live leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Remarks: captive: in captivity, culture, or experimentally induced
Foodplant / open feeder
larva of Phaedon tumidulus grazes on live leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Remarks: season: -late 8
Foodplant / feeds on
pycnidium of Phomopsis coelomycetous anamorph of Phomopsis diachenii feeds on fruit of Pastinaca sativa
Foodplant / miner
larva of Phytomyza spondylii mines leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Foodplant / parasite
hypophyllous colony of sporangium of Plasmopara crustosa parasitises live leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Foodplant / spot causer
colony of Pseudocercosporella anamorph of Pseudocercosporella pastinacae causes spots on live leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Foodplant / saprobe
erumpent apothecium of Pyrenopeziza pastinacae is saprobic on dead, decorticate, overwintered, patchily greyish stem of Pastinaca sativa
Remarks: season: 5-7
Other: major host/prey
Foodplant / spot causer
amphigenous, in small scattered groups colony of Ramularia hyphomycetous anamorph of Ramularia heraclei causes spots on live leaf of Pastinaca sativa
Foodplant / saprobe
superficial colony of Sarcopodium dematiaceous anamorph of Sarcopodium circinatum is saprobic on dead stem of Pastinaca sativa
The lepidopteran Depressaria pastinacella (parsnip webworm) is the dominant herbivore on Pastinaca (Gorder and Mertens 1984, Thompson 1978). The adult webworm lays eggs on unopened umbels from mid-May to early June. The larva then builds a web on the umbel and feeds on the flowers and developing seeds. The mature larva bores into a large stem at the base of the plant to pupate over winter, and the adults emerge the following July (Gorder and Mertens 1984).
Life History and Behavior
The following life history information is from Baskin and Baskin (1979). Seedlings emerge from February through April, form rosettes and grow vegetatively for one or more years before they form an aerial shoot ("bolt") and flower. During vegetative growth the plant continuously produces and loses leaves; over winter the above ground tissues dies back leaving only one or two partially expanded leaves on each plant. Rosettes must reach a critical size before vernalization will effect flowering. Flowering occurs from mid-May to mid-June and seeds are mature by early July. The primary umbel on the main stem begins to develop and produce seed one to two weeks before the secondary umbels on lateral branches. The plant dies as the seeds mature, leaving the dead shoot standing through the winter. Seed dispersal normally occurs in autumn through late November, but many areas with P. sativa are mowed in late summer and seeds are often released as the shoots are cut. Newly mature seeds are inhibited from germination by summer temperatures. Stratification over winter increases germination ability and seeds germinate in early spring. Seedling mortality is high with less than 1% of newly emerged seedlings surviving to reproduce.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Pastinaca sativa
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pastinaca sativa
Public Records: 9
Specimens with Barcodes: 17
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Management Requirements: Wild parsnip can become abundant along roadsides that are regularly mowed as mowing seems to encourage the production of flowering plants. If mowing occurs too early (in June or early July), the plants may resprout and still have time to flower and set seed; if too late in July, the primary umbel may have mature seeds that will germinate after cutting. Mowing also stresses other species that have the potential to be good competitors against parsnip, such as Solidago spp. Kline (1986) tested annual mowing of parsnip in July before seed set over a six- year period and observed increases in the abundance of flowering plants in the mowed plots, but a steady decline in parsnip density in the unmowed control plot. The common goldenrod, Solidago altissima, was abundant in all plots at the start of the experiment. The July mowing reduced density, height, and flowering of the goldenrod, allowing more sunlight to reach immature parsnip seedlings. The steady decline in parsnip density in the unmowed plot suggested that in situations where other plants are able to offer competition, the best parsnip control measure is to do nothing (Kline 1986).
Where P. sativa occurs on a recovering prairie, the best treatment may be to simply encourage good prairie growth. For example, prescribed burning encourages the growth of native grasses, which in turn outcompete and eventually displace the wild parsnip (Kline 1987).
For small patches, weeding with a shovel is the best control measure. Flowering plants should be chopped off just below ground level before seed set. Care should be taken to avoid contact with the plant tissues. Wear gloves, long pants, and sleeves. Since the plants do not all flower at once, the area should be rechecked several weeks after the first cutting. The vegetative rosettes can also be dug up if enough labor is available, otherwise, the area should be revisited the following year to remove any newly flowering plants.
Burning removes litter and taller plants allowing parsnip rosettes to develop rapidly. When present, wild parsnip rosettes are among the first plants to green up after an early spring burn and they become easy to detect and dig up with a shovel.
The parsnip webworm damages some individual plants severely, but is not known to devastate whole patches and is not likely to be useful as a biocontrol agent (Martin 1987).
Management Programs: The following individuals are familiar with wild parsnip. Control is achieved mainly by hand-pulling.
Virginia Kline, University of Wisconsin Arboretum, 1207 Seminole Hwy., Madison, WI 53711. 608-263-7344.
Mark Martin, Natural Areas Management Specialist, Wisconsin DNR, Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707. 608-266-8916.
Management Research Needs: Research is not considered a priority since parsnip does not invade high quality natural areas.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Stewardship Overview: Pastinaca sativa can be controlled by hand-digging along paths, roadsides, and other bare areas, and prairie edges. Flowering plants should be chopped off below the ground before seed set. Where it occurs on recovering prairies the best management may be simply to encourage good prairie growth. After a spring burn, parsnip is among the first plants to emerge and may be easily detected and dug out to control abundance along prairie edges. Mowing decreases competitive ability of companion species and increases density of flowering parsnip stems.
Species Impact: Pastinaca sativa invades disturbed bare areas, especially those with calcareous soils. It is an undesirable exotic weed and produces a compound that causes severe blistering and discoloration on contact with the skin on sunny days, a condition known as photodermatitis. In infested areas it regularly occurs along paths and roadsides where eradication is desirable from a human safety as well as ecological standpoint. Well-established prairies are not likely to be invaded by parsnip, but it can become quite abundant on prairie edges and in disturbed patches within otherwise high quality prairies. It is also highly persistent on sites that remain disturbed or bare such as rocky areas, paths, or roadsides.
The parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable closely related to the carrot and parsley. It is a biennial plant usually grown as an annual. Its long tuberous root has cream-colored skin and flesh and can be left in the ground when mature as it becomes sweeter in flavor after winter frosts. In its first growing season, the plant has a rosette of pinnate, mid-green leaves. If unharvested, it produces its flowering stem, topped by an umbel of small yellow flowers, in its second growing season. By this time the stem is woody and the tuber inedible. The seeds are pale brown, flat and winged.
The parsnip is native to Eurasia. It has been used as a vegetable since antiquity and was cultivated by the Romans, although there is some confusion in the literature of the time between parsnips and carrots. It was used as a sweetener before the arrival in Europe of cane sugar. It was introduced into the United States in the nineteenth century.
The parsnip is usually cooked but can also be eaten raw. It is high in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium. It also contains antioxidants and both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. It can be cultivated in deep, stone-free soils and is attacked by the carrot fly and other insect pests, viruses and fungal diseases, of which canker is the most serious. In sunlight, handling the stems and foliage can cause a skin rash.
|This section may be confusing or unclear to readers. (September 2013)|
Parsnips are grown for their fleshy, edible cream-colored taproots. The roots are generally smooth, although lateral roots sometimes form. Most are cylindrical, but some cultivars have a more bulbous shape, which generally tend to be favored by food processors as they are more resistant to breakage. The plant has a apical meristem that produces a rosette of pinnate leaves, each with several pairs of leaflets with toothed margins. The lower leaves have short stems, the upper ones are stemless, and the terminal leaves have three lobes. The highly branched floral stem is hollow and grooved, and can grow to more than 150 cm (60 in) tall.
Parsnip is a biennial with a rosette of roughly hairy leaves that has a pungent odor when crushed. The petioles are grooved and have sheathed bases. The leaves are once- or twice-pinnate with broad, ovate, sometimes lobed leaflets with toothed margins; they grow up to 40 cm (16 in) long. The flower stalk develops in the second year, growing to a height of 40 to 200 cm (20 to 80 in). It is hairy, grooved, hollow (except at the nodes), and sparsely branched. It has a few stalkless, single-lobed leaves measuring 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) long that are arranged in opposite pairs. The yellow flowers are in a loose, compound umbel measuring 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 in) in diameter. There are 6–25 straight pedicels, each measuring 2–5 cm (1–2 in) that support the umbellets (secondary umbels). The umbels and umbellets usually have no upper or lower bracts. The flowers have tiny sepals or lack them entirely, and measure about 3.5 mm. They consist of five yellow petals that are curled inward, five stamens, and one pistil. The fruits, or schizocarps, are oval and flat, with narrow wings and short, spreading styles. They are colored straw to light brown, and measure 4–8 mm long.
Despite the slight morphological differences between the two, wild parsnip is the same taxon as the cultivated version, and the two will readily cross-pollinate. Parsnip has a chromosome number of 2n=22.
Like carrots, parsnips are native to Eurasia and have been eaten there since ancient times. Zohary and Hopf note that the archaeological evidence for the cultivation of the parsnip is "still rather limited", and that Greek and Roman literary sources are a major source about its early use. They warn that "there are some difficulties in distinguishing between parsnip and carrot (which, in Roman times, were white or purple) in classical writings since both vegetables seem to have been sometimes called pastinaca yet each vegetable appears to be well under cultivation in Roman times". The parsnip was much esteemed and the Emperor Tiberius accepted part of the tribute payable to Rome by Germany in the form of parsnips. In Europe, the vegetable was used as a source of sugar before sugar cane and beet were available. As pastinache comuni, the "common" pastinaca figures in the long list of comestibles enjoyed by the Milanese given by Bonvesin de la Riva in his "Marvels of Milan" (1288). This plant was introduced to North America simultaneously by the French colonists in Canada and the British in the Thirteen Colonies for use as a root vegetable, but in the mid-nineteenth century it was replaced as the main source of starch by the potato and consequently was less widely cultivated.
In 1859, a new cultivar called "Student" was developed by James Buckman at the Royal Agricultural College in England. He back-crossed cultivated plants to wild stock, aiming to demonstrate how native plants could be improved by selective breeding. This experiment was so successful that the Student became the major variety in cultivation in the late nineteenth century.
- Pastinaca fleischmannii Hladnik, ex D.Dietr.
- Pastinaca opaca Bernh. ex Hornem.
- Pastinaca pratensis (Pers.) H.Mart.
- Pastinaca sylvestris Mill.
- Pastinaca teretiuscula Boiss.
- Pastinaca umbrosa Steven, ex DC.
- Pastinaca urens Req. ex Godr.
Like most plants of agricultural importance, several subspecies and varieties of P. sativa have been described, but these are mostly no longer recognized as independent taxa, but rather, morphological variations of the same taxon.
- subsp. divaricata (Desf.) Rouy & Camus
- subsp. pratensis (Pers.) Čelak.
- subsp. sylvestris (Mill.) Rouy & Camus
- subsp. umbrosa (Steven, ex DC.) Bondar. ex O.N.Korovina
- subsp. urens (Req. ex Godr.) Čelak.
- var. brevis Alef.
- var. edulis DC.
- var. hortensis Ehrh. ex Hoffm.
- var. longa Alef.
- var. pratensis Pers.
- var. siamensis Roem. & Schult. ex Alef.
In Eurasia, some authorities distinguish between cultivated and wild versions of parsnip by using subspecies sylvestris for the latter, or even elevating it to species status as Pastinaca sylvestris. In Europe, various subspecies have been named based on characteristics such as the hairiness of the leaves, the extent to which the stems are angled or rounded, and the size and shape of the terminal umbel.
The etymology of the genus name Pastinaca is not known with certainty, but is probably derived from either the Latin word pastino, meaning "to prepare the ground for planting of the vine" or pastus, meaning "food". The specific epithet sativa means "sown".
Parsnips resemble carrots and can be used in similar ways but they have a sweeter taste, especially when cooked. While parsnips can be eaten raw, they are more commonly served cooked. They can be baked, boiled, pureed, roasted, fried or steamed. When used in stews, soups and casseroles they give a rich flavor. In some cases, the parsnip is boiled and the solid portions are removed from the soup or stew, leaving behind a more subtle flavor than the whole root, and starch to thicken the dish. Roast parsnip is considered an essential part of Christmas dinner in some parts of the English-speaking world and frequently features in the traditional Sunday Roast.  Parsnips can also be fried or thinly sliced and made into crisps. Parsnips can be made into a wine that has a taste similar to Madeira.
In Roman times, parsnips were believed to be an aphrodisiac. However, parsnips do not typically feature in modern Italian cooking. Instead, they are fed to pigs, particularly those bred to make Parma ham.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||314 kJ (75 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||4.9 g|
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.|
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
A typical 100 g parsnip contains 75 Calories (230 kJ) of energy. Most parsnip cultivars consist of about 80% water, 5% sugar, 1% protein, 0.3% fat and 5% dietary fiber. The parsnip is rich in vitamins and minerals and is particularly rich in potassium with 375 mg per 100 g. Several of the B-group vitamins are present but most of the vitamin C is lost in cooking. Since most of the vitamins and minerals are found close to the skin many will be lost unless the root is finely peeled or cooked whole. During frosty weather, part of the starch is converted to sugar and the root tastes sweeter.
The consumption of parsnips has potential health benefits. They contain anti-oxidants such as falcarinol, falcarindiol, panaxydiol and methyl-falcarindiol which have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. The dietary fiber in parsnips is partly of the soluble and partly the insoluble type and comprises cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. The high fiber content of parsnips may help prevent constipation and reduce blood cholesterol levels.
While folk etymology sometimes assumes the name is a portmanteau of parsley and turnip, it actually comes from Middle English pasnepe, alteration (influenced by nep, turnip) of Old French pasnaie (now panais) from Latin pastinum, a kind of fork, whose ending was changed to -nip by analogy with turnip because it was mistakenly assumed to be a kind of turnip.
The wild parsnip from which the modern cultivated varieties were derived is a plant of dry rough grassland and waste places, particularly on chalk and limestone. Parsnips are biennials but are normally grown as annuals. Sandy and loamy soils are preferable to silt, clay and stony ground as the latter produce short, forked roots.. Parsnip seed significantly deteriorates in viability if stored for long. Seeds are usually planted in early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked to a fine tilth, in the position where the plants are to grow. The growing plants are thinned and kept weed free. Harvesting begins in late fall after the first frost, and continues through winter. The rows can be covered with straw to enable the crop to be lifted during frosty weather. Low soil temperatures cause some of the starches stored in the roots to be converted into sugars, giving them a sweeter taste.
Parsnip leaves are sometimes tunnelled by the larvae of the celery leaf miner (Euleia heraclei). Irregular pale brown passages can be seen meandering between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves. The effects are most serious on young plants as whole leaves may shrivel and die. Treatment is by removing affected leaflets or whole leaves, or by chemical means.
The crop can be attacked by larvae of the carrot fly (Chamaepsila rosae). This pest feeds on the outer layers of the root, burrowing its way inside later in the season. Seedlings may be killed while larger roots are rendered useless. The damage done provides a point of entry for fungal rots and canker. The fly is attracted by the smell of bruised tissue and damage can be minimized by sowing thinly, providing good growing conditions, avoiding thinning the plants and weeding carefully. Parsnip is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidopteran species including the parsnip swallowtail, the common swift moth, the garden dart moth and the ghost moth. The larvae of the parsnip moth (Depressaria radiella), native to Europe and accidentally introduced to North America in the mid-1800s, construct their webs on the umbels, feeding on flowers and developing seeds.
Parsnip canker is a serious disease of this crop. Black or orange-brown patches occur around the crown and shoulders of the root accompanied by cracking and hardening of the flesh. It is more likely to occur when seed is sown into cold, wet soil, the pH of the soil is too low or the roots have already been damaged by carrot fly larvae. Better results may be obtained by choosing a resistant variety and sowing later in the season, producing smaller, more closely spaced plants. Several fungi are associated with canker, including Phoma complanata, Ilyonectria radicicola, Itersonilia pastinaceae, and I. perplexans. In Europe, Centrospora acerina has been found to cause a black rot that kills the plant early. Watery soft rot, caused by Sclerotinia minor and S. sclerotiorum, causes the taproot to become soft and watery. A white or buff-colored mold grows on the surface. The pathogen is most common in temperate and subtropical regions that have a cool wet season.
Violet root rot caused by the fungus Helicobasidium purpureum sometimes affects the roots, covering them with a purplish mat to which soil particles adhere. The leaves become distorted and discolored and the mycelium can spread through the soil between plants. Some weeds can harbour this fungus and it is more prevalent in wet, acid conditions. Affected plants should be removed and burnt and susceptible crops should not be grown in the area for four years. Erysiphe heraclei causes a powdery mildew that can cause significant crop loss. Infestation by this causes results in yellowing of the leaf and loss of foliage. Moderate temperatures and high humidity favor the development of the disease.
Several viruses are known to infect the plant, including seed-borne strawberry latent ringspot virus, parsnip yellow fleck virus, parsnip leafcurl virus, parsnip mosaic potyvirus, and potyvirus celery mosaic virus. The latter causes clearing or yellowing of those areas of the leaf immediately aligning the veins, the appearance of ochre mosaic spots, and leaf crinkling in infected plants.
While the root of the parsnip is edible, handling the shoots and leaves of the plant requires caution as the sap is toxic. Like many other members of the family Apiaceae, the parsnip contains furanocoumarin, a photosensitive chemical that causes a condition known as phytophotodermatitis. The condition is a type of chemical burn rather than an allergic reaction, and is similar to the rash caused by poison ivy. Symptoms include redness, burning, and blisters. Afflicted areas can remain discolored for up to two years. Although there have been some reports of gardeners experiencing toxic symptoms after coming into contact with foliage, these have been small in number compared to the number of people that grow the crop. The problem is most likely to occur on a sunny day when gathering foliage or pulling up old plants that have gone to seed. The symptoms have mostly been mild to moderate. The toxic properties of parsnip extracts are resistant to heating, or a storage period of several months. Toxic symptoms can also affect livestock and poultry in parts of their bodies where their skin is exposed. Polyacetylenes can be found in Apiaceae vegetables such as parsnip, and they show cytotoxic activities.
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